movie: Avatar (3D at the IMax)

February 28, 2010

When I first saw the trailer for Avatar I immediately thought “I have no interest in seeing that”  However two things have brought me around to it, world-wide peer pressure in that everyone seems to have seen this and it is up for many awards, and by all accounts this is THE movie to watch in 3D and I feel I should try out this technology.

However I still went in with fairly low expectations of both the movie and the technology, and my conclusion is that it wasn’t as bad as expected.

The movie itself is alright.  It doesn’t have the best story, characterization, dialogue, structure or plot but it isn’t as bad as Transformers 2 (my current measure of how bad a movie can be).  To sum it up for the few people who haven’t seen the movie, there is a planet with a mineral which humans want – unimaginatively named “Unobtanium”.  The indigenous people (large, naked, blue, smurfs) are extremely connected with the environment and happen to be living on top of the biggest concentration of Unobtanium on the planet.  There are two groups of humans in this – the corporate businessmen who want to get to the Unobtanium with the soldiers who ‘protect’ them and the scientist who are trying to get to know the ‘smurfs’.

The scientist can inhabit an ’empty-shell’ mock up of the ‘smurf’ body – an Avatar.  So the human goes to sleep in a machine and their brain is connected to the Avatar so they can move around on the planet and communicate with the smurfs.  One guy does this really well, becomes accepted by the smurfs and tries to save them when the humans start to bulldoze their way towards them.

However, you really can’t talk about this film without referring to the 3D effects.  It is certainly made for 3D without too much of the old-school 3d cliches of things shooting towards the screen, and there is no doubt that 3D technology is really good.  There are moments when the full depth of the scene comes to life or when people in the foreground almost get in the way of the camera and this is used to the full advantage of this film.

There is a question of whether 3D adds anything to the film and that can only be answered if you define what a movie is?  Films take you into another world, captivate you in a story and involve you with the characters and plot when they work well.  Movies, for me, fail when you notice you are watching a movie.  Anything that brings you out of that experience to make you notice that you are sitting in a room full of people looking at a projection spoils it (which is why noisy food and talking is such a pain).  Would The Godfather, Casablanca, Roman Holiday, or any great plot-based movie have gained anything from being in 3D?

3D therefore (in my humble opinion) spoils the movie experience.  You are aware that you are watching a film – because you are wearing uncomfortable glasses that wash out the colour and keep seeing these wiz-bang ‘3D’ effects on the screen.  The thing is these ‘3D’ effects aren’t actually 3D!  It isn’t like looking at a stage where things are actually closer or farther away and people can move smoothly up-stage or down-stage.  So much of the 3D technology shows you action happening on different planes of vision which gives a very unnatural effect.  You are fully aware that you are watching a 3D effect and not looking at a real situation – although, again, I have to say that it is very good.

3D cinema is being pushed on us at the moment by the studios and distributors because it is harder to pirate.  If you can become truly immersed in 3D so that it doesn’t distract then fine and if you are going to watch any movie in 3D then this is probably the one.

Backbeat at the Citizens Theatre

February 26, 2010

Went to see Backbeat tonight at The Citizens and had a great time!  Backbeat is the story of John Lennon and his best friend, artist, Stuart Sutcliffe.  John invites Stuart to join his newly formed band even though he can’t play bass but looks right.  So they come up with the name The Beatles and the five of them head off to Hamburg.  While in Germany Stuart falls in love with Astrid Kirchherr and has to choose between staying with the band or being with Astrid and being an artist. I wont give away the ending.

This is the world premiere of the stage version of Backbeat, which was previously a movie, and the staging of the play uses large sliding panels, creative lighting and fantastic projections to represent everything from the Liverpool docks, railway stations, Hamburg clubs and of course the Cavern Club back in Liverpool.  While this isn’t a musical or ‘jukebox-play’ it does obviously include lots of incidental music and the guys are playing live which really adds to the whole event.

So, a fantastic production only on for another week or so at The Citizens before moving to London so catch it now and don’t just take my word for it:

Audience reaction

book: Stuart Woods “Reckless Abandon”

February 22, 2010

I’ve been out of action for a week in a sea of sickness (and mouse hunting)…  so it was over a week ago when I finished this book and already I can remember no details of it.  Sometimes that is what you want, and it is what I like about the ‘pulp’ Stuart Woods books.

Having a quick flick through the book to remind myself of the plot, for what it matters, and this time Stone Barrington is joined by Holly Barker, the Chief of Police from Florida that he met in a previous novel.  She is in town trying to chase down a killer, this is complicated because he is in FBI witness protection and working undercover with the Mafia on a cash for guns deal with middle eastern terrorists….  if that isn’t enough, Stone and Holly are recruited by the CIA and Stone is flown to London to help appoint the new head of MI6.

When it comes down to it these are just fluffy page turners, but they do keep your attention and entertain.  So I’ll keep with the Stuart Woods novels for now.

Street Lights

February 12, 2010

I spent the day ‘working from home’ in the cafe across the street.  I find it much less distracting to work there than at home but I did spend some time watching a couple of electricians working on a street lamp outside my flat.  They were in a cherry-picker, going up and down, moving to the next lamp, looking at lighting on street signs, scratching their heads going up in the cherry-picker again…

Anyway, tonight the lamp outside my flat is indeed working for the first time in a few weeks.  However, the lights are out on the main road through the busy mini roundabout, all the way to church and also up the hill beside the St Andrews building to the park.  :-)

book: Simon Varwell “Up the Creek Without a Mullet”

February 11, 2010

I have taken a break from my usual mix of Thrillers and Prattchet’s to read this first publication from Simon Varwell.  Well I had to really, I’ve known Simon for a while and been looking forward to this book for some time!

In a nutshell “Up the creek without a mullet” is a simple story of a man on a mission!

The fact that the mission is “to visit every place in the world with the word ‘mullet’ in its name” tells you something about the character of the book.  However, there is more to it than just the search for Mullets.  Firstly, why Mullets?  How does this obsession with Mullets start?  Where does it take him?

It turns out to be the story of a man who has a vision, a reason to travel not just for experience but to go places – specific places with a specific word in their name.  The story has highs and lows, success and setbacks, moments of self-doubt and many, many evenings in various bars across the globe.

The obvious question is Why? Well you will need to read the book for that, but once Simon makes this decision to go mullet-bagging it takes him on a journey to unusual and interesting places.  Not being a very widely travelled person myself and in particular having no attraction to the idea of solo-travelling I found it interesting to hear about the joys and frustrations of the journeys, as well as the insights into the places visited and characters met along the way, especially when these were compared to the ‘real world’ i.e. Scotland!

I also love the humour in the book but don’t want to quote anything and give away jokes – suffice to say that the line that has brought me most pleasure and I aim to use at every opportunity from now on involves something that is hard to find at a Ceilidh!

Simon is the kind of person who seems to generate conversations (he doesn’t even have to be in the same town as I discovered only last night).  He seems to be able to strike up conversations in pubs, travelling or online that turn into real friendships, and the people he meets in the course of mullet-bagging across the world add a real depth and character to this excellent little book.  And I’m not just saying all this because I know he reads my blog.

I’m really pleased to say I would recommend this to anyone, you should like this book if

  • you like travelling
  • you like Scotland
  • you want to know more about Albania, Ireland, Australia
  • you want to know how to become a major media sensation
  • you want to know about solo travelling in general
  • you want to discover the sport of mullet hunting
  • you want to know anything about any place with the word mullet in its name
  • or you simply want a good read

Simon will be appearing in person on the 17th March at 6.30pm for a reading and book signing at Biblocafe on Woodlands Road, Glasgow.  For details of Edinburgh (2nd), Aberdeen (6th) and Stirling (11th March) see Up The Creek Without A Mullet 2010 Tour page.

Mark Kermode

February 10, 2010

Ross and I went to an event at Glasgow Film Theater tonight billed simply as “Mark Kermode – It’s Only A Movie Tour”Mark Kermode, in case you aren’t familiar with his work, is a film critic who writes for Sight and Sound magazine and The Observer and reviews films on BBC Radio Five Live with Simon Mayo (subscribe to the podcast) oh, and also presents the Culture Show on BBC2.

OK, so that’s who Mark Kermode is, “It’s Only a Movie” is the title of his book and so tonight was some kind of book tour.  We weren’t entirely sure what would take place, whether this would be a book reading, an interview, a series of film clips, etc.  It started with this pithy and succinct review of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, a review which I truly agree with on every level!

What followed was a series of opinions and anecdotes from Mark followed by a question and answers session and a book signing.  That rather brief simplified explanation however doesn’t sound very exciting or entertaining and I must say it really was a very fun evening.  One of the things I enjoy most about Mark Kermode’s style of movie review is his passion for film and how he is clear and strong with what is his opinion but always leaving room for people to disagree.  In other words it is clear what is factual knowledge about a film and what is his opinion.

In a live environment like this his relaxed, authoritative and natural speaking style was very entertaining!  A non-stop series of stories about his career, interviews he has carried out, opinions on various films and an extremely vociferous justification for his dislike of 3D technology with the use of visual aids including flying-smurfs and an action-man.

Following the short Q&A was the disorderly forming of an orderly queue for the book signing part.  This did seem to take some time because Mark did seem to have a brief conversation with everyone in the line.

As we waited there was a Varwell-moment:  as we were waiting I mentioned that I’d only been to one book signing before (Adam Ant a year or so ago) and next month there was going to be a similar event in Biblocafe for Simon Varwell’s book “Up the Creek Without a Mullet” [reading and book signing, Wednesday 17 March 6.30pm!!]  On the mention of his name the guy in front of us in the queue turned around and said “Did you say Simon Varwell?”  and on confirming it and admitting that we know him he said “I’m a reporter for the Daily Record and have just interviewed him about his book.”  We chatted a little about the book and how much we had both enjoyed it and found it amazing how Simon seems to have this knack of meeting people and starting up conversations.  I think that since Simon seems to meet so many people from all over the world there must be an increasing probability that people who know him will bump into each other, when such meetings happen to me I will call them a “Varwell moment.”

Food: The Lansdowne Bar and Kitchen

February 8, 2010

The ongoing irregular alphabet journey around Glasgow has seem my friend and I meeting for dinner in a restaurant beginning with a different letter of the alphabet each time.  The last time was Ketchup way back in November, so tonight was The Lansdowne, or  The Lansdowne Bar and Kitchen to give it its full name.

Although The Lansdowne is around 5min walk from home it isn’t somewhere I’ve been that often and it frequently seems to have been re-decorated every time I go.  It is a basement bar/restaurant in the quiet, mostly residential Lansdowne Crescent with a dark but spacious layout of booths and leather couches at the front, tables and a conservatory to the rear.

We chose from the Bar Menu (there is a separate Kitchen Menu) and had Burger and Fish and Chips, or:

St Mungo’s Haddock Supper – Served with chunky chips and minted mushy peas or a fresh mixed green salad (for that healthy option!) and

LBK Char Grilled Beef Burger – Served with rocket, beef tomato, fresh mozzerella, carmelised red onion and chunky chips.

Both of which were £8, very good quality and large portions!  The Lansdowne is a great little bar, with very modern decor and without the loud music that usually has to dominate such a place (at least no loud music on this particular Monday evening), and I’m stuffed!

book: Simon Kernick “A Good Day To Die”

February 6, 2010

Very quick review of this one, I got hold of this book because it was a recommended thriller writer with a book set in London when I was going to visit London.  So I haven’t read anything by this author before and this story is part of a continuing series with the main character, Dennis Milne.

A Good Day To Die” starts of with Dennis in hiding/exile in the Philippines, and we discover that he is ex-police from London and now some kind of hit-man. When is ex-partner is killed he goes back to London and working on his own, hunted by the police and various gangs, he stumbles across a series of clues and solutions with an inevitable twist.

As you can probably tell I wasn’t too inspired by this book. It was an interesting, even gripping plot but I found the writing style got annoying.  By the end I noticed that each chapter seemed to either start or end with a summary of the whole story so far and this just got really, well boring.

A popular author, but it didn’t work for me.

The thing at Tate Modern that blew my mind.

February 6, 2010

Later searching tells me that this was “The latest commission in The Unilever Series How It Is by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka” this is a bit self-indulgent because I want to remember how I experienced and ‘discovered’ it.  Feel free not to read :-)

As blogged earlier when in London I visited Tate Modern (or should that be ‘The Tate Modern’?) and being somewhat underwhelmed by both its collection and exhibitions that I saw.  As you work your way around the exhibition spaces the lobby areas on each floor overlook the massive ‘Turbine Hall’ (this building was originally a power station) and to be honest I had always thought that this was much more part of the Tate Modern – but by approach the building from the Millennium Bridge and entering through some anonymous doors there is no obvious way to go into the Turbine hall.

Anyway, I had looked out and down to the Turbine Hall a few times and couldn’t really see anything to go look at.  One end was just the gradually sloping floor from the entrance and at the other was this big steel box. Then that I figured out that this huge steel structure was in fact ‘art’ !

It was big! To quote Douglas Adams “Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean…” It reminded me of way back when I worked in a Clyde Shipyard because it is simply an unadorned large steel box.  “Hovering somewhere between sculpture and architecture, on 2 meter stilts, it stands 13 meters high and 30 meters long.” (the web site seems reluctant to say how wide it is )

So, it is a big steel box to look at and walk under, but as you walk to the far end (nearest the back wall of the Turbine Hall) the box is in fact open and has a ramp to walk up and enter the pitch black box – if you dare.

There were a few people inside when I walked up the ramp, an older couple a few meters inside and someone else further in that I didn’t know about yet.  I stood at the top of the ramp looking into the deepest darkest dark darkness I’ve ever seen while the couple to my left gave up and turned around saying “that’s far enough, I don’t like it” and as they turned “oh, it looks better this way, when you’re looking out”.  I gradually walked further in, savouring the atmosphere and immediately started to “get it”.

As a piece of ‘art’ to look at this big metal box could talk of scale, strength, power, etc. but that really isn’t much.  This is all about the experience and emotional reaction you get as you walk into this complete darkness and it was an experience that blew my mind!  You are walking forward in darkness, towards more darkness and your senses begin to disappear.  The inside is covered with some kind of thick fabric so you aren’t walking on steel – no loud footsteps.  I clapped my hands to test the acoustics and very little echo, the sound was extremely dampened which seemed to contradict the space.  Darkness, no sound, nothing to taste, smell or touch – so other than the knowledge that you were walking and the feel of your own weight on your feet you are removed from all senses and have no point of reference for whether you are moving or not.

Out of the blackens I saw a guy making his way back out and by then there were more people coming in behind.  I recon I was about three quarters of the way in at that point when I looked back for the first time – another totally alien and unique experience!  The entrance is one whole side of the structure but with the perspective of where I was this huge gap appeared to be far away, and all that was outside was the structural end wall of the gallery itself. Silhouetted against this was the strange site of people in ones or twos making there way in or out of the structure, all uncertainly and with some trepidation – many not making it far in at all.

I managed to get all the way to the end wall to find it covered in the fabric (I think), like the floor, which is when I figured that was why the sound was muffled.  I walked along the wall for a while running my hand against it then started to make my way back out.

The think I experienced this thing in exactly the right way by not knowing anything about it and having no expectations.  It was an utterly strange and unique experience that was for me all about how you felt entering this space and being engulfed by –nothing-

Since (IMHO) art is about the viewer’s reaction rather than the item itself, this really is art.

More about “How It Is”

gig: Peatbog Faeries

February 1, 2010

Last day of this year’s Celtic Connections, finally managed to get organised to go to a full gig, and probably in one of the best venues in Glasgow, The FruitmarketI hadn’t heard much from the Peatbog Faeries, but on Alan’s recommendation a small group of us got together for this gig.  Also, it was on a Sunday night, so a good excuse to skip church ;-)

They have been classified as ‘Celtic Fusion’ which generally means upbeat non-traditional music with traditional Celtic instruments and music.  From my limited experience of Celtic bands I would say they are similar to Shooglenifty with a great mix of sounds with bagpipes, whistles, fiddles, electric guitar, keys and a brass trio (sax, trombone and trumpet) which gives them what I thought was a jazz/funk feel and at other times a blues vibe with obviously a strong Celtic core through out.

The Fruitmarket or ‘The Old Fruitmarket‘ as it now seems to be called – rocks!  It has an excellent atmosphere for this type of music with that old-world feel of a market place and cobbled street – good acoustics and you never feel that far from the band, even when like me you prefer to stand at the back by the tech-desks.

The only thing that detracted from this concert at all was the lighting which looked like a good rig but seemed to be operated in a very random way.  The movers were over used, nothing was in time with the music very often and there seemed to be programs left on randomly for long periods which added nothing and just made it harder to watch the band.

Apart from that minor irritation it was a good night, with good company and some great sounds.  I’d certainly recommend catching the Peatbog Faeries if you get the chance.